What’s the most blissful aspect of going away on retreat? Could it be a) having uninterrupted time to write, b) spending time away from home in beautiful, peaceful surroundings, or c) not having to think about shopping, cooking and all the daily ‘must dos’ that steal writing time when you are at home. Or, could it be all of those?
When I’ve been away on retreats in the past I’ve loved not having to think about the next meal, or where the food will come from. The joy of writing all morning, all afternoon and into the evening, punctuated by meals which someone else has prepared, and after which someone else will clear up, are worth the price of entry alone.
When we designed The Writing Retreat we wanted food to be central to our guests’ enjoyment of the week. It helps that we are both of Welsh extraction, which means we are genetically programmed to cater in abundance. We love planning the menus and sourcing the ingredients and the weekend before each retreat will find us in the kitchen, chopping fresh vegetables for soups, baking and making quiches to get the week off to a great culinary start.
Some retreats ask guests to help with the dinner preparation and service on one night of their stay. We’ve tried this and it’s fun, but we know that not everyone looks forward to it; nothing should really break the wonderful spell of knowing you have a whole week ahead of you without having to think about cooking.
That’s why we now recruit a bit of help at lunchtime and on two evenings in the week from Amy and Charlie, the dynamic kitchen duo who make up White Radish. Amy is a top notch chef with five star London restaurants on her CV. With Charlie, she runs her own catering business based on a farm just outside Penzance. Their assistance means everyone can relax – including us.
On the first and last evenings of the retreat week we cater ourselves; on the first night to welcome our guests and on the last night to celebrate the week. We are getting used to hearing people say ‘you must give us the recipe’, which is always flattering. Perhaps the most requested is the recipe for Friday night’s show stopper of a dessert: Caramelised pear pudding with fudge sauce. It’s a joy to make, very easy and looks stunning. It tastes pretty good too.
Here’s the recipe, with quantities for up to 10 people.
CARAMELISED PEAR PUDDING WITH FUDGE SAUCE
Ingredients for the fruit
- 10 ripe pears
- 4 tablespoons of light muscovado sugar
- 2oz salted butter
For the sponge
- 6 oz butter, softened at room temperature
- 6 oz golden caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 6 oz gluten free plain flour (we often have guests who prefer gluten free. I’ve found it makes for a lighter, fluffier sponge, so now I always use it)
- ½ teaspoon of baking powder
For the fudge sauce
- 4oz muscovado sugar
- 4floz Golden Syrup
- 2oz salted butter
- 5floz double cream
- A few drops of vanilla essence
Heat the oven to 160C
- To prepare the pears, peel, core and slice them lengthways.
- Melt the butter with the sugar in a shallow pan over a medium heat, slowly, until the sugar has melted. Add the pears and gently turn them in the caramel, coating them as they slowly soften. Stop before the sugar turns dark and leave to cool.
- Make the sponge mix. Mix the sugar and softened butter in the bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating them in to the mixture one at a time. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mix and fold in, not beating too much.
- Place the pears and their caramel in the base of a circular oven proof baking tin or dish. Pour the cake mixture on top and distribute it smoothly over the fruit.
- Bake in the oven at 160C for 45 minutes or until the cake is risen and golden and a skewer comes out cleanly. Leave it to cool, then turn it out of the tin or dish onto a large circular serving plate.
- To make the fudge sauce, put the sugar, Golden Syrup and butter in a small, heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring. Then stir in the cream and vanilla essence and leave it to cool. The sauce will thicken as the temperature drops.
- When ready to serve, pour the fudge sauce over the turned out pudding. Keep any extra in a jug so that people can help themselves to more.
- Serve with a nice blob of Cornish ice cream or clotted cream or, if you dare, a bit of both.